071 :John Inazu, Uncommon Ground: Living in a World of Difference

In a moment when there is so much division and difference, how do we engage?

John Inazu has some wonderful insight on this. John is the author of the book Confident Pluralism and the creator and co-editor of the recently released book Uncommon Ground – providing us with a guide to faithful living in a pluralistic and fractured world. John is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis.  He teaches criminal law, law and religion, and various First Amendment classes.

“One of the primary reasons that we internalize difference as human beings is because we feel threatened,” comments John. “And probably in its own category of difficulty is differences across race and ethnicity, which is another place where people may feel threatened or challenged, especially around baseline assumptions.”

“If we have grown up in a racially homogeneous setting we tend to think that our way of doing things — how we talk, how we sing, how we think about the world, how we spend our days — we tend to think our baseline is the right baseline. It’s only if we take the time to think ‘Somebody raised in a different homogeneous culture might actually have a different baseline. What does that mean for how I see the world? Does that mean I might be off, relative to their baseline?’ But we never really get to these discussions until we are confronted with it head on, and then it can be unsettling because not only is that trying to learn about someone else’s differences to understand them better, but it often might help us understand ourselves better and that can often be a bit of an anxiety-inducing experience.”

In light of all that we are all facing today, an invitation exists for all of us to become better “translators”; not only learning how to communicate our own thoughts and our own story, but really learning to translate the stories and thoughts of others. When we translate well, we can engage from a place of truth.

“The vocation of translation is something we are all called to in some way. We meet people who are different than us, who see the world differently than we do and we have sometimes responsibility and sometimes an opportunity to communicate across difference. This means understanding context, understanding the barriers that might be between people, and working hard to talk carefully and kindly across those differences.”

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